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Convergence: Digital healthcare reaches a turning point

Digital health, while still in its early stages, has reached an extraordinary turning point, and its next phases are likely to evolve very, very quickly, according to panelists at the Digital Medicine & Medtech Showcase in San Francisco January 10, 2018 on a panel moderated by Anne Smart, managing director at ClearView Healthcare Partners.

“We’re just starting to feed data to scientists in a way that’s trusted, contextual, and actionable,” Rick Valencia, president, Qualcomm Life, says. His company is just launching an application for anesthesiologists that shows the core of the body with the status of the organs in green, yellow or red. “It’s basic, but it’s providing better results.”Digimed_Medtech 231_1

Of such baby steps, Janna Schulman, CEO, AIDIA Collective, Inc., is much more optimistic. Given the greater computing capacity, miniaturization, and better understanding of brain physiology, “the new digital health evolutionary stage has gone past data and diagnostics to create therapeutics that couldn’t be created through standard pharmaceuticals or medical devices. Instead, they can be created with a variety of digital modalities that can treat the whole person.”

Consumer technology is one of the key drivers for such digital health solutions. The counterpoint to their widespread adoption, however, is the difficult processes and business models within the healthcare system. “There are perverse incentives and bizarre vendor onboarding processes. It’s Byzantine!” Aaron Nelson, general partner, dRx Capital, and principal, Novartis Venture Fund, says.

This may mean that digital healthcare solutions will follow the model of cell phones, which were adopted in developing nations (because of the lack of legacy infrastructure) before they became common in developed countries.

Nonetheless, says Megan Coder, executive director, Digital Therapeutics Alliance, conversion is occurring. Pointing to studies that show digital interventions are working, she says, “Doctors are prescribing them now and payers are beginning to pay for them.”

To accelerate acceptance, Schulman says, “Every digital health company should conduct efficacy studies to demonstrate value! Right now, value is a crap shoot.”

Those studies are integral to getting payer buy-in and, hence, reimbursement. Involving payers also suggests that companies are somewhat mature. They have chosen their business models and negotiated costs, identified the proper billing codes and worked out payment models.

Payers are the primary—but not the only—market; digital medicine generates a solid ROI by reducing more costly provider visits. Corporate wellness programs offer an alternative market, and other business models also are possible. “Achieving reimbursement is a long game,” Nelson says.

Digitization fuels democratization

Because these technologies allow people to own their own healthcare data, consumers can drive the adoption and acceptance of digital healthcare information. Panelists affirmed that consumers can handle the data, saying that with each data deluge—including the information overload of recent decades—people have learned to cope.

As consumers take more active roles in their own healthcare, however, the doctor/patient relationship inevitably will change. The “doctor in a box” telemedicine approach is gaining popularity, for example.

Digimed_Medtech 226_1As healthcare costs continue to rise, “providers must find ways to scale services to more people,” Mary Lou Jepsen, founder and CEO, Openwater, says. For simple cases and rural areas, this often means digital solutions. This approach frees clinicians to devote more of their time to more serious medical needs and gives remote patients better access to specialists.

Making such systems robust implies collaboration and integration to ensure that solutions are not only deployable, but also are interoperable, platform-agnostic technologies for broad scalability. And, they must be secure.

As life becomes increasingly digitized, the thread of hacking grows. “Pacemakers and other implantables are being hacked today,” says Newton Howard, chairman of the board, ni2o. Developers, therefore, must take the threat seriously and design appropriate safeguards.

In one year’s time, when this panel convenes again at Digital Medicine & Medtech Showcase, panelists predict that aggregation will be a key topic as companies combine platform-agnostic infrastructure with multiple relationships with digital health companies. The discussion around security and scalability also will likely continue. Mark your calendar now to find out whether they’re right!

Want to read more highlights? Click here to read more all of our Biotech Showcase coverage!

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